Home | Reviews | Articles | Festivals | Competitions | Other | Contact Us
The Minotaur Music Theatre
Director Stuart Barker
Musical Director David Eaton

Mozart - Don Giovanni

The Rosemary Branch, Islington, London 30 May 2006

Sullivan – Cox and Box & Purcell – Dido and Aeneas

The Rosemary Branch 28 May 2006


The Rosemary Branch is a pub in that part of Islington that was formerly known as Hoxton. It has a long pedigree, going back to 1594, and still proudly sports the sprig of rosemary that was the badge of a local radical group – “The Levellers”. At one time it boasted a famous pleasure garden and provided entertainment on a grand scale, but now it plays host to one of London's smallest opera theatres with seating for an audience of a mere 50 people.


The stage is sized to match – around 20 foot square by my estimation – and that has to accommodate the piano and “set” as well as the action. It's a challenge which requires Director Stuart Barker to exercise every inch of his considerable skill and ingenuity. He does so by ruling out gimmicks and remaining completely faithful to the text – everything has to stand up to scrutiny from an audience almost within touching distance.


Amazingly, it not only works, but somehow creates the impression of a much larger space, as the statue of the Commendatore finally advances on Don Giovanni there appears to be a limitless void around them, yet neither singer could have taken more than a couple of steps in any direction without reaching the margin of the stage.


David Eaton doubled as Musical Director and pianist, but his relentless pace and volume tempted the singers to push their voices further than was necessary in that venue and opera: Mozart deserves more musical elegance and wit.


Don Giovanni (John Savournin) and Leporello (Sebastian Rex Valentine) – both made good sense of their roles demonstrating a master-servant relationship between two people who thoroughly understand one another. Pamela Hay (Donna Elvira) produced some polished acting and decent singing on an evening when she was indisposed. However it was Stephanie Bodsworth's resourceful Zerlina [pictured] with scarlet wedding dress and bright youthful innocence, perfectly reflected in her voice, that stole the show. She was well matched by her Masetto (Alan Tsang) was also careful to keep his singing within his comfort zone. Susie Parkes (Donna Anna), David Menezes (Don Ottavio) and Chris Turner (Commendatore) completed the strong acting cast.


Alternating with Don Giovanni is a double bill of short English operas beginning with Cox and Box Sullivan's “triumviretta” dating from the days before he teamed up with Gilbert. (The libretto is by Francis Cowley Burnand.) It has a simple plot in which a duplicitous landlord rents out the same rooms to both a printer who works by night and a hatter who works by day. Gradually they discover first of all each other's existence and identity and then that they are in fact long lost twin brothers. John Savournin and Sebastian Rex Valentine again teamed up as Cox and Box, with David Eaton taking the stage as their Landlord Bouncer, and leaving James Young (the other half of the Eaton-Young Duo) to provide the spirited piano part.


The score includes such give-away conceits of the Victorian era as the mock serious lyrical ode Hushed is the bacon and the delightfully inconsequential duet The buttercup dwells on the lowly mead . It was all presented and sung with charm and an appropriate lightness of touch – and well co-ordinated teamwork with all the comings and goings in such a confined space.


The mood changed completely after the interval for Purcell's Dido and Aeneas. Dido most beautifully sung and portrayed by Olivia Ray with a perfect sense of the inner strength. Benedict Nelson as Aeneas also did sterling stuff. John Savournin, making his third appearance in these shows, was a Sorcerer of immense stage presence, and I was impressed by Claire Buckley in the small role of Second Woman who sang with a real feeling of baroque style.


Three great shows presented in an atmosphere of infectious good spirits easily diffused in the intimate confines of that tiny but magical theatre. The season continues until 11 June – and is worth the journey.


Serena Fenwick


© Peter Grahame Woolf